Island Life by David Slack


Ask her now

My future wife and I were out of a job on the same day in 1990. Meet the new boss. You may remember him as the eight week Prime Minister, Mike Moore. We remember him as the man whose people handed us a get out of jail card. Who would have wanted to work on that doomed election campaign?

What do you do when you're out of work in the middle of a recession? You take yourselves off on a jaunt to the United States of America.

We were an office romance. There seemed to be an implicit understanding that at a suitably romantic moment on the trip, I might, you know, do that question popping thing. There was an evening out on the water under the Golden Gate bridge that suggested itself, but there was a cold breeze. Anywhere in the French Quarter would have been good. Manhattan was mostly too noisy, Chicago too wet, Washington DC too busy. There was a moment in an Amtrak dining car when I felt on the point of it, but then the food arrived.

Weeks went by; we came back home. I was still waiting for the right moment. I voted Green in a National landslide. Clearly I was ready for a leap into the unknown.

All the same, it still took me another two months.

There is a man named Manu who lives in the USA. He and his girlfriend enjoy a blog entitled ParisDailyPhoto, which offers precisely what its title suggests.

On the Internet, nice people help other people. Eric, who curates ParisDailyPhoto, is such a man. Manu emailed him to say that he and his girlfriend were coming to Paris. What his girlfriend did not know was that Manu was planning to propose to her in front of the Eiffel Tower. Could Eric possibly be there to surreptitiously take a photo of the young lovers at the magic moment and publish the picture on his blog?

Eric is a Frenchman with a generous heart. This is what he wrote.

My romantic soul couldn't resist, so, we arranged for a time and place, and there I was last night (Monday) at 7:45 pm sharp on the Passerelle Debilly. By the way, we did not even talk. All this was to remain a secret until today! - so I don't even know if she said yes.

Click to his blog to see the beautiful picture, and the rest of the story.

And then there is death. Karren and I chose Mary-Margaret’s name because I would say to all her other suggestions, that’s nice but I still like Mary-Margaret.

There is a Nanci Griffith song. I like it because just like young Bob the baby, I like the country music. Listen to this. It's Nanci Griffith in concert introducing the song in her sweet West Texas drawl and providing some charming context to the song about her best friend Mary Margaret. It’s what streaming audio sounded like on the Internet in 1996. If anyone can help me identify its source (I think it might be a BBC recording), I’ll gladly go and buy the original.

It’s a song about shared hopes, shared lives and friendship. It's the song that gave us the name for our daughter.

Also, we liked the idea of a Mary-Margaret who could leave behind a privileged and stuffy life in Grosse Point Michigan to fly planes in Alaska and call herself Maggie. It’s fictional, but when you’re naming your child, you’re working largely with an imaginary character too.

We tell our daughter that girls can do anything and we play her the song, and I think: this is a little girl whose generosity and empathy suits the sentiments of the song and its singer.

Mary Margaret Heenie, the Mary Margaret of the song, died last month. She was 53.

I came upon her story a decade or so ago. She spoke about her illness in an interview, while she waited for a lung transplant. I feel sad for someone I only know of from a song, and whose life perhaps gave her less than she hoped of it.

Our own Mary-Margaret's life is still ahead of her. Since she was little and her cousins went there, she has had her name down for a private school, but we wonder if it's the right choice. This might seem an improbable week to be saying it, but we like the look of Takapuna Grammar. In the 90s it seemed to be in disarray, but notwithstanding one pupil going to jail for drug trafficking and now a bad bullying story, it looks like a decent sort of school these days.

We have a decision to make. On the one hand: fine facilities and excellent teaching at the private school. On the other hand, the possibly malign influence of indulged wealthy offspring. We are weighing the arguments, not the least of them being that Mary-Margaret would like to go to the local school.

The private school sent us a letter last month inviting the prospective pupil for an interview. It referred throughout the letter to “Mary-Margare”. They profess to have a place for her if she meets their standards, but it would appear that not even their database has quite enough room.

At the very least, you need to get the name right when you ask the important questions.

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